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by Chris Teale September 13, 2017 at 4:45 pm 0

Its sightings last month left many baffled, and now, car company Ford has explained why and how it sent a “driverless” car through the streets of Courthouse and Clarendon.

In a Medium post today (Wednesday), John Shutko, Ford’s Human Factors Technical Specialist for Self-Driving Vehicles, said the company was working with Virginia Tech to test ways for driverless cars to more effectively show its intentions to pedestrians and other road users.

Ford joined with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to test the technology — an animated light bar in the windshield of the video — and to see how those around reacted when they saw a car with no one in the driver’s seat.

“Anyone who has crossed a busy street likely knows the informal language between pedestrians and drivers,” Shutko wrote. “A driver might wave her hand to indicate to the pedestrian it’s okay to cross, or a pedestrian could throw up his hand like a stop sign to signal he plans to cross first. But what happens in the future, when self-driving vehicles operate without drivers – and in some cases, without anyone even in the vehicle itself?”

After being first reported by ARLnow.com, and famously further investigated by NBC4 reporter Adam Tuss — who was startled to discover a person in a seat costume inside — VT admitted it was behind the driverless car.

Ford said people are put in the cars — and dressed as car seats — for safety reasons, as self-driving technology is still in the early stages of testing and development.

The vehicle, a Ford Transit Connect van, had a light bar on top of its windshield. The bar pulsed white light back and forth when yielding, blinked rapidly before accelerating after a stop, or stayed solid when driving normally.

“Virtual reality testing with customers shows it takes a couple of exposures to signals like these before people truly understand what they mean,” Chutko wrote. “It takes even longer for signals to become ingrained in people’s brains  –  second nature, if you will. Through our testing, we believe these signals have the chance to become an accepted visual language that helps address an important societal issue in how self-driving vehicles interact with humans.”

Ford said it has logged more than 150 hours and around 1,800 miles in its tests in dense urban areas. Chutko said the time is right to create an industry standard for autonomous vehicle communications and to start to educate the public.

by Chris Teale September 13, 2017 at 3:50 pm 0

Arlington County drivers will have been feeling the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma at the pump, with gas prices spiking by up to 30 cents a gallon or more locally.

Harvey hit oil refineries throughout Texas, with about one-quarter of oil refining capacity on the Gulf Coast being temporarily shut down, according to AAA. And in Arlington and elsewhere in the U.S., prices have spiked as the refineries get back up and running and damage to their systems and pipelines is assessed.

As of Wednesday, prices at the Shell and Speedway stations near Clarendon were $2.69 a gallon for unleaded gas, up from the former price of around $2.30 a gallon.

Despite a spike of around $0.30 cents since the hurricanes, Virginia remains one of the least expensive states to buy gas, at just over $2.50 a gallon on average, according to GasBuddy.com.

“As in any national or local state of emergency, AAA expects gas prices to be held in check up and down the gasoline supply chain, including prices set by refiners, distributors and dealers unless there is a clearly justifiable reason for an increase,” Jeanette Casselano, a AAA spokeswoman, said.

AAA is also warning anyone looking to buy a car to be careful of buying a flood-damaged used car. When major storms trigger flooding, thousands of totaled cars are shipped out of the affected area and can end up on the used car market elsewhere in the country. As many as a million vehicles may have been submerged by Harvey, AAA said last week.

Sometimes, buyers can be unaware a car has been repaired after being damaged by floodwater. Cars are meticulously dried out, scoured and scrubbed, then the title is “washed,” where it is moved from state to state until it is branded as repairable. They are then sold on by what AAA described as “unscrupulous sellers and fly-by-night operators.”

In a statement, John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, said:

“Use your five senses to detect telltale signs a vehicle has been flooded. Then use your sixth sense. Look for a waterline under the hood, undercarriage and bumpers; for mud and debris inside the cabin and trunk; for signs of rust, and for fogging inside the headlights and taillights. Use your sense of smell to detect the scent of disinfectants or cleansing agents used to cloak musty smells or mold or mildew. Touch the carpet or floor mats for residual traces of wetness or for signs that the carpets, seats and interiors were recently shampooed.

“Listen to the engine to check if it runs smoothly, or runs rough, or makes abnormal noises as it runs. Also listen to the sound system, to check if the electronics are working properly, because some mechanical and electronic components don’t survive flooding. Curiously, the term ‘lemon,’ a slang first used to describe a ‘worthless thing’ and then ‘a defective car,’ stems from a metaphor for ‘something that leaves a foul or bad taste in your mouth.’ That could happen to you if you buy a flood-damaged vehicle.

“Then rely upon your intuition, instincts, and ‘mother wit.’ Flooded cars are not always totaled and 50 percent are eventually resold. But most of all, use your common sense, and always purchase a vehicle history report or obtain a free VIN report for any vehicle suspected of having a watery past.”

by Buzz McClain August 21, 2017 at 6:00 am 0

When Daniel Fishman bought his first new car a few years ago he fell into a trap most new car owners fall into: A compulsion to keep that showroom gleam.

“But I found that living in a city apartment without a hose at my disposal made that difficult,” he says. “It was hard to keep my baby clean.”

That’s when it dawned on him that the car washing business was ready for a disruptor, an internet-based service that would essentially deliver a car washing service the way ride-hailing apps deliver rides.

Fishman and partner Dinko Badic launched WashMyCar, LLC, last summer. Car owners schedule their washes via a superbly friction-less web-based application or an old-fashioned phone call an hour or two before they want the service.

Car washes start at $22 for an exterior hand wash.

“We spend a minimum of 50 minutes on a hand wash,” Fishman says. “But we’ll spend up to three hours if a customer orders a full slate of the services we offer.”

That includes tire shines ($8), interior cleaning ($45) and hand waxing ($32). Customers may also sign up for a subscription for scheduling the service at regular intervals.

“We describe our service as somewhere between a machine wash–which isn’t as safe as hand washing–and a full-on detailing service, but we’re far less expensive,” he said.

WashMyCar is not the usual service you get from the soap splashing teens raising money for their high school bands at the gas station. Fishman and Badic are serious about providing a quality service that earns high praise. “We have 100 percent positive customer feedback, and we want to keep it that way,” Fishman says.

Which is why they bring their own high-quality, proprietary equipment and cleansers and a better-than-average knowledge of factory-applied clear coat, base coat and primer and what works best when cleaning them.

Like Fishman when he was inspired to start WashMyCar, any Arlington residents live in dwellings that do not make outdoor hoses available for washing cars and trucks. Fishman and Badic solved that problem with what he calls “a two-bucket method” of washing.

“We use two to three gallons of water, which is very low water consumption for a car wash,” he says. “So it’s eco-friendly, which was important to us. There’s virtually no water run-off. And we don’t need a hose. It takes a little longer than if we used a hose, but it’s worth it.”

The car doesn’t have to be outdoors, even: WashMyCar can wash your car in a garage. And the vehicle owner does not need to be present at the time of the wash, unless they want interior cleaning, and even then if arrangements are made for opening the car, they don’t have to be there for that.

For more information see the WashMyCar website or Facebook page. Contact WashMyCar at 202-810-9274 or [email protected].

The preceding was a sponsored business profile written by Buzz McClain.

by ARLnow.com August 9, 2017 at 10:05 am 0

As noted this morning, Virginia has made it legal to test self-driving car technologies in the Commonwealth.

That policy is getting additional attention after a seemingly driverless van was spotted driving around Clarendon last week and, this week, was revealed to be a human-driven Virginia Tech research project.

While the mysterious van was not self-driving, automated vehicle testing is expected to take place in Northern Virginia, as we wrote last week.

VDOT and FHWA recently announced that Virginia Tech would be conducting automated vehicle testing along I-95, I-495, I-66, Route 50 and Route 29. The announcement did not mention testing on primary streets along Metro corridors, however WTOP reported in May that “self-driving cars already on Virginia roads, even if you don’t realize it.”

Self-driving vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives each year by reducing human-caused crashes while also freeing up drivers to focus on other tasks during their daily commute. Such technology could also become an economic engine for the region, should Northern Virginia become a leader in the field.

On the other hand, testing a new technology in a heavily populated region certainly comes with risks. And many fear the unknown with self-driving cars: what if the tech has flaws and causes crashes?

What do you think of automated vehicle testing in Northern Virginia?

by ARLnow.com August 4, 2017 at 9:20 am 0

Complaint Begets No Parking Signs Begets Complaints — Residents of a dead-end street in the Woodmont neighborhood are complaining after Arlington took eight street parking spaces away, and WaPo is on it. The no parking signs went up in response to a resident’s complaint about the street being too narrow. [Washington Post]

Driverless Van Update — Who or what is behind the driverless van spotted cruising around Clarendon yesterday evening? We still don’t know for sure, but a Virginia Tech spokeswoman offered “no comment” this morning in response to our inquiry. [ARLnow]

Route 110 Lane Closures — “Route 110 at the Route 27 interchange and local ramps will have nighttime closures from Monday, Aug. 7 to Thursday, Aug. 24 in order to install bridge beams, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.” [VDOT]

Yelp Says Nope to Arlington — Online review site Yelp has leased 52,000 square feet of office space near the Verizon Center in D.C. for a new East Coast hub. The company was also considering office space in Rosslyn but, despite its CEO’s Arlington connection, decided against it. [Washington Business Journal]

Photo courtesy Ed S.

by ARLnow.com August 3, 2017 at 8:05 pm 0

Update at 2:40 p.m. on 8/7/17 — Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said in a statement to ARLnow: “ACPD is aware that driverless vehicles are being tested in the Commonwealth. Officers have not had contact with the vehicle observed in Clarendon. If officers observe a traffic violation, they will attempt a traffic stop.”

Update at 1:30 p.m. on 8/7/17 — NBC 4’s Adam Tuss, working on a follow-up story to this article, spotted the van driving around Clarendon on Monday, Aug. 7, and upon further inspection found a driver — disguised as a seat. Police were called after the driver ran a red light but officers were unable to locate the van, according to scanner traffic. Tuss’ report is expected to air Monday night.

Earlier: A mysterious, seemingly driverless van was spotted cruising the streets of Arlington’s Courthouse and Clarendon neighborhoods Thursday evening.

The unmarked gray van with Virginia license plates drove up and down Wilson and Clarendon Blvds more than a half dozen times — with no one in the driver’s seat or passenger seat. The rear windows of the Ford Transit Connect van were darkly tinted.

The van appeared to drive cautiously but keep up with traffic. Cameras and a light bar could be seen behind the windshield.

When the car stopped at a red light, the light bar started blinking. When the signal turned green and the car started driving, the blinking stopped.

The lack of a driver went mostly unnoticed as Clarendon residents went around their after-work routines near the Metro station, though occasionally people could be seen pointing at the car or asking someone nearby if they saw a driver.

Spokespeople for Arlington County, the Arlington County Police Department, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration did not have any immediate knowledge of any autonomous vehicle testing on the streets of Arlington.

VDOT and FHWA recently announced that Virginia Tech would be conducting automated vehicle testing along I-95, I-495, I-66, Route 50 and Route 29. The announcement did not mention testing on primary streets along Metro corridors, however WTOP reported in May that “self-driving cars already on Virginia roads, even if you don’t realize it.”

“In Virginia, it’s a little bit more discreet, so companies could test in real-world environments and you wouldn’t even know, so we have some proprietary studies going that route,” a Virginia Tech researcher was quoted as saying.

Anne Deekens, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, declined to say whether it belongs to the university. “I have no comment at this time,” she said.

by Chris Teale August 3, 2017 at 8:25 am 0

A crash and an overturned car left the eastbound lanes blocked on Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City on Thursday morning.

The accident happened around 7:30 a.m. August 3 near the Macy’s department store at Army Navy Drive’s intersection with S. Hayes Street. It left a black car on its side at the scene.

Police closed all lanes going east, while a photo from a reader shows a long line of cars stopped trying to get onto Army Navy Drive from I-395.

According to scanner traffic, the car was back “on all fours” just before 8:20 a.m. Police reopened the eastbound lanes just before 8:30 a.m.

That section of Army Navy Drive is a busy one in the mornings, as it connects to I-395 and takes hundreds of cars to and from the nearby Pentagon.

Photos No. 1 and 2 by David and Elizabeth Lacey. Photo No. 3 by Heather Carroll.

by ARLnow.com August 2, 2017 at 3:45 pm 0

A man was arrested last Wednesday and accused of masturbating in his car near Rosslyn, in view of passersby.

Police have charged the man, a Burke, Va. resident, with “obscene sexual display.”

More from this week’s Arlington County Police Department crime report.

INDECENT EXPOSURE, 2017-07260139, Wilson Boulevard at N. Rhodes Street. At approximately 11:39 a.m. on July 26, police were dispatched to the report of an indecent exposure. Upon arrival, it was determined that the reporting party allegedly observed a male subject masturbating in his vehicle. Arriving officers located the subject and took him into custody. Otman El Garras, 37, of Burke, VA was arrested and charged with obscene sexual display.

Also last week, someone stole the airbags from at least seven vehicles along the 4400 block of 31st Street S., the steep road from Shirlington to Fairlington.

LARCENY FROM AUTO (Series), 2017-260058, 4400 block of 31st Street S. Between 10:00 p.m. on July 25 and 6:00 a.m. on July 26, an unknown subject(s) forced entry into at least 7 vehicles and stole the airbags. There is no subject(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

The rest of this past week’s crime report highlights, including some that we’ve already reported, after the jump.

(more…)

by Chris Teale August 2, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

A car caught fire on N. Quintana Street in Madison Manor just after noon Wednesday (August 2).

The fire began under the hood of a black Honda parked on the street around 12:15 p.m. According to scanner traffic, flames were visible for a short time. Firefighters from Fairfax County Fire & Rescue quickly handled the blaze, a job perhaps made easier by a fire hydrant being located just feet away from the car.

A firefighter on scene had no information about why the fire started, and said it was “just one of those things.” There were no injuries, and the firefighters left the scene around 12:45 p.m. The car’s owner stood nearby talking on his telephone once the flames were doused.

by Chris Teale July 14, 2017 at 4:35 pm 0

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Police closed westbound Interstate 66 near the Rosslyn tunnel Friday afternoon after a three-vehicle crash.

Units from the Arlington County Fire Department responded to the scene under Rosslyn Gateway Park with Virginia State Police just after 3:30 p.m after reports of the crash.

Three patients were transported to the hospital with injuries, according to scanner traffic.

Officers and crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation blocked all lanes of westbound I-66 and diverted traffic in the area onto Lee Highway. Delays are likely to continue into the evening rush hour, although police said they will look to reopen one westbound lane soon.

by Chris Teale June 29, 2017 at 4:30 pm 0

A pair of Arlington County Police officers rescued a dog from inside a parked car yesterday morning (Wednesday) in Courthouse.

The officers responded just before noon for reports of a dog crying inside the vehicle parked at the county’s surface parking lot, on the 1400 block of N. Courthouse Road. They removed the dog from the car and handed him over to animal control.

A police spokeswoman said it’s up to animal control officers whether to charge the dog’s owner with a crime. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington did not respond to requests for comment.

More from ACPD’s Ashley Savage:

At approximately 11:46 a.m. on June 28, the emergency communication center received a report that there was a dog crying inside a parked vehicle in the 1400 block of Courthouse Road (this is the surface parking lot located across the street from the police department). The caller advised that the windows were slightly cracked but the dog appeared in distress. Responding officers were able to rescue the dog and transfer him to the care of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Animal control officers from Animal Welfare League of Arlington are charged with the enforcement of all Virginia state and Arlington county laws pertaining to the welfare, care, and control of all domestic and wild animals. They will investigate to determine if any charges are appropriate.

Even on relatively mild days during the hot summer months, children or animals should not be left unattended in a car, regardless of whether the windows are cracked, officials say.

 

by ARLnow.com June 21, 2017 at 9:00 am 0

Advertising for Capital Bikeshare? — The Arlington County Board has approved a policy that would allow an advertising sponsorship for Capital Bikeshare. A corporate sponsorship of the regionwide system could generate $750,000 over five years for Arlington County, which would be used to support, expand and promote the system in Arlington. [Washington Post, Washington Business Journal]

Board Approves Climate Resolution — The County Board last night approved a resolution expressing the county’s commitment to fighting climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting energy efficiency. The resolution also states “that Arlington County supports the principles of the Paris Agreement and will continue to… advance action in accordance with the goals outlined in [it].” [Arlington County]

Arlington Taking Action to Attract Pollinators — Workers planted flowering plants in Arlington yesterday as part of a joint effort to attract more pollinators — insects like bees and butterflies. The environmentally-friendly effort was sponsored by the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation, NOVA Parks and Dominion. [WJLA]

Arlington to Update Resource Protection Map — Arlington County will hold public hearings on updating its Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Map. “The more accurate map will help Arlington protect environmentally sensitive lands near streams and ensure that the County can comply with local and State regulations,” said a press release. “It will allow the County to review development projects fairly and provide accurate information to residents and other stakeholders.” [Arlington County]

Photos from Crystal City Car Show — The annual Crystal City Fathers Day Auto Festival was held this past weekend and featured more than 100 cars. This year the show was organized in part by Carsfera.com. [Facebook]

Williamsburg Neighborhood Plan Updated — The County Board has approved an update to the Neighborhood Conservation Plan for Arlington’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Per a press release: “Residents made recommendations for improving traffic and pedestrian safety, maintaining the neighborhood’s character, protecting the tree canopy and improving neighborhood parks.” [Arlington County]

First Day of Summer — Today is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. [Capital Weather Gang, Vox]

Photo courtesy Valerie O’Such

by Kalina Newman May 26, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

The fifth annual Father’s Day Auto Festival returns to Crystal City on Sunday, June 18, where a bevy of vehicles from sport cars to antiques will be on display.

The family-friendly festival is from 2-6 p.m. at 220 20th Street S., and will feature a range of automobiles for viewing.

Presented by the Crystal City Business Improvement District, the festival has a new partnership with automotive website Carsfera. The collaboration allows dozens of new cars to be added to the line-up.

In addition to the display show, there will be other activities like a mini race car painting booth, a race track, moon bounce and live music. A Toyota Prius will also be on display for local artists to creatively paint throughout the event.

The event is free to attend, and it is also free to register a vehicle to display, but online registration is required for the latter.

Photo via Crystal City BID

by Chris Teale April 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

With the growth of electric vehicles nationwide, one Arlington startup is looking to solve what could be a common problem: the need for extra electricity when not near a charging station.

Electric Feel works on the same principle as a portable battery bank that can charge a cell phone. Its energy storage device holds about 5 kilowatts of power, which translates to about 25 miles per charge for an electric vehicle.

Company founder Farah Brunache has been designing her storage device for over a year, and said she was inspired by driving an electric car herself but not using her apartment complex’s charging facilities every night.

“That’s when I realized I needed to look hard at when I was able to reach my destination that following day, and that’s when I thought of the concept of doing a partial charge, which is basically what my device does,” she said. “I essentially started the business to fill in the gap of needing to partially charge your vehicle.”

Currently, the storage device Brunache is designing weighs around 20 pounds, which she said “sounds super heavy.” She said the design is still in the early stages so she used standard batteries, but in the future hopes to cut the device’s weight in half to 10 pounds or less.

“I like to tell people it’s similar to how people carry their bikes to work,” Brunache said. “You’ll ride with it, and it’s not heavy then, and then when you’re going to transition into a building or lock it up, then yes you have to lift it. It is weighty but manageable.”

Right now, Brunache said her goal is to start shipping the product at the end of this year or the beginning of next to begin beta testing. Those interested in helping test the device — and Brunache said there has been a lot of interest — can sign up online. The process of working out how to manufacture the product is ongoing.

“It’s still being tested, and I’m speaking to these different manufacturers to get a better understanding of what a minimum order would need to be,” Brunache said. “Right now, I’m working on starting beta testing, getting feedback and working on final design changes. Throughout that process, I’ll gather a list of individuals interested in testing, so then it can help set expectations of manufacturing.”

Given the growth of electric vehicle use both in Arlington and nationwide, and the additions of charging stations at apartment buildings, parking garages and stores, Brunache said her device can help fill a growing need.

“One of the things is electric vehicles, the way that we as drivers use them, we always need electricity, just like in life, kind of like how we always need water,” she said. “It’s a resource we’re constantly needing. I definitely see this as something that will be loved by the masses, especially as more electric vehicles get on the road.”

by Chris Teale March 17, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

Smashed windshield from ice (photo courtesy Meg Miller Rydzewski)

(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) The recent winter storm may be old news, but after several incidents in recent days drivers still need to be alert for chunks of ice flying off vehicles in front of them.

Arlington resident Meg Miller Rydzewski sent a photo of her husband’s car, which was struck by a chunk of ice that broke off a truck in front of him while driving northbound on I-95.

The ice hit the windshield and caused major damage, but Rydzewski said it could have been much worse.

“It’s estimated that if the force of impact had been 10 to 15 percent more, it would have gone through the windshield and might have killed him,” she wrote. “[It was] sudden and very scary.”

“He did get safely to the side of the highway but couldn’t see where he was going due to the shattered glass,” Rydzewski added. “Thankfully he was not hurt.”

AAA reported that flying ice caused injuries to three vehicle occupants along I-95 and the Beltway in Maryland on Wednesday. Maryland State Police said the victims “suffered eye injuries from spraying glass from windshields broken by ice from other vehicles.”

John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs, said drivers are responsible for clearing snow and ice from their cars before they leave home.

“Snow and ice flying off moving vehicles will cause other drivers to swerve to avoid it, and they can run off the road or swerve into another lane of traffic where other motorists are traveling, causing a deadly domino effect,” he said. “So before leaving your driveway or your curbside parking spot, and before you go, clear every inch of snow and ice accumulated on the exposed surfaces from your vehicle.”

There is no law in Virginia, Maryland or D.C. to punish motorists that do not remove snow from their vehicles before driving, according to AAA.

“A law is needed in Maryland, Virginia and the District to help protect drivers from sheets of snow and ice flying off from vehicles while they are driving down the road,” Townsend said. “After this epic snowstorm, it can be a matter of life or death if drivers fail to remove the snow and ice.”

AAA has a number of tips for people clearing snow from their cars. Drivers should never use hot water to melt ice on their cars, for instance; the organization recommends using de-icer spray for windows and mirrors in combination with a snow brush for the rest of the car. With the snow brush, drivers should work from the top of the vehicle on down, pulling snow towards you.

“It requires less effort and helps you avoid having to clear the same areas twice,” AAA says. “If the vehicle is an SUV or taller — grab a step stool to help access the roof.”

“Just as the removal of snow from sidewalks along your home and business is a responsibility of all citizens, removing snow and ice from vehicles should be the responsibility of every driver before it becomes dislodged while driving down the highways,” Townsend said. “It is the duty and debt we owe one another.”

Photo courtesy Meg Miller Rydzewski

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